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     Scottish CND      Magazine

Swimming to Trident

by Rick Paul Springer

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The photo shows Krista, Katri at the Ploughshares Camp before their swim.

After walking a thousand kilometres with the Walk for Nuclear Disarmament from the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium to Faslane, Scotland, the home of the Trident nuclear weapons submarine, our 50 or so walkers joined the Trident Ploughshares 2000 camp to plan actions to disarm the Trident itself. This is the story of the effort of the affinity group, Titanic Trident, who walked those thousand kilometres to board the Trident submarine and beat it, symbolically into a plough, a farm tool, and to beat it, in actuality in a way that would make it as useless as possible by Swimming to Trident.

Our group of 10, composed of 3 active disarmers willing to face serious jail consequences, 3 disarmers willing to cause damage with less severe consequences, a media person, a legal supporter and observer, and two supporters to cover loose ends, gather materials and see that our personal possessions were returned home, went to work immediately gathering information about the Trident submarine system. We learned that rather than de-escalate the nuclear threat at the end of the Cold War, the Trident fleet of four nuclear submarines represented a significant escalation, with missiles capable of longer distances, greater speed, more fire power, and more targets.

We studied several possible ways to disarm the Trident system from Trident communications to missile loading equipment, from towed array used for sonar communications to the missile launch tubes. We consulted local activists from the long standing Faslane Peace Camp who have attempted and succeeded at such actions in the past. We learned of their successes and failures. We took tours of the Gareloch and Faslane area where the Clyde RN Submarine base is located and the Loch Long, home of RNAD Coulport, a weapons depot, where Trident missiles are loaded, unloaded and stored. We studied the Tri-Denting It Handbook which was complete with maps of the bases, descriptions of the submarines and support systems, possible targets and nonviolence pledges.

After a week of research we focused on the submarine, sitting in the water at Faslane itself and decided to approach by water. Ministry of Defence officers later explained that even the summertime water temperature of the Gareloch is so cold that hypothermia and death happen in just fifteen minutes of exposure. Choosing a water approach created an equipment list that took another three days to organize. We were fortunate that one of the affinity groups had arrived with a selection of wet suits, fins, masks, and snorkels. We found the best fitting suits we could and completed our wardrobe with hammers, hacksaws, flares for emergency, and plastic jugs of tarry goo. Our goal was to beat the missile tubes closed and pour tar into the same tubes so that missiles could not be launched.

We performed a practice run at midnight on a clear and dreamy night across the bay from Faslane on the west bank of the Gareloch. We tested the fit of our wetsuits and our ability to withstand the cold. We swam up the bay as we studied the Faslane Bay and ship lift warehouse where the Trident is docked next to and sometimes dry docked for maintenance and repairs. We stayed in the water for 45 minutes and felt as though we could double that time if we had to. We decided to swim across the entire bay just after midnight three nights later because it was the longest approach and therefore the approach they would least expect.

The three active disarmers were Krista Van Zelzin, 23 of the Netherlands, Katri Silvonen, 18 of Finland and myself, Rick Springer, 47 of the United States. The other action members of our team planned a fence entry to attempt a land approach of the Trident to increase our possible success from all sides.

After a special 11:30 pm drop off, we dived down the bank to avoid being spotted by the constant Strathclyde police patrols. We breathed deeply as we secured our weight belts, fins, hammers, flares and jugs of tar. If our dreams were realized and we were actually successful at disarming the Trident we expected that we could be imprisoned for at least until our trial. We entered the water at 11:45 and a cold chill filled our wet suits as we lay down into the Gareloch. We began swimming to Trident as Katri explained to me that she had never swam with flippers. It seemed all in the Creators hands now. At about the centre of the bay Krista pointed out a green light that just appeared on the west bank from which we had come. She also noticed a red light on a boat moving up the side we had just departed. "They must have spotted us," she commented. I told her I suspected the green light was only a vector light, a navigational aid, and the boat was just coincidence but I became concerned myself when the boat seemed to be turning right towards us. The concern of being run over had been considered and that coupled with possible hypothermia were the reasons we carried waterproof flares. A bright spotlight landed 20 feet off the side of the boat descending upon us. I suggested in a whisper that we take a deep breath and get ready to submerge. I dipped under just as the spotlight hit my head and was amazed to look at my suited body fully lit up under the water. I rarely felt so exposed but as I came to the surface I was amazed to see the 30 foot cabin cruiser search boat continue on while the diesel hummed. Krista and Katri told me that they had come to the surface in the middle of the spotlight. I realized that the spotlight means nothing if there is not someone staring at it and after hours of cruising the bay staring at a spot of light must be mesmerizing. The spotlight also destroys the viewers night vision so anything outside the light is nearly invisible. We began swimming again feeling somewhat more buoyant and excited. The huge shiplift building loomed ahead for an eternity when suddenly the shadow of the boom surrounding Faslane Bay became visible. The boom, a huge floating sausage connected to a huge round ball and then another sausage creating the inner bay, was only eighty yards off as a Zodiac inflatable came zooming in between us. They shined their search light at the base of the boom but it seemed to me impossible for them to spot a swimmer at the speed they were going. The sea birds resting on the boom squawked and resettled as the boat went by. Our fears of being given away by squawking birds were calmed as we gently approached. I cooed softly like a pigeon and they barely moved as we slid in between the sausage and ball, no netting, no trip wires. We realized that we had made it to Faslane Bay. And there before us, only three or four hundred yards more swim was the evil Trident submarine, docked on the right side of the Shiplift building. The three of us gently cruised forward out into the bay when Krista noticed three tiny figures standing on the left front of the Shiplift. They were so tiny, I was hoping she was wrong and they would prove to be just garbage on the dock but by the time we had covered half the bay to the Trident, we could see the glow of their cigarettes with each puff. And then they moved.

With the tremendous Las Vegas style lighting of Faslane, we could barely conceive that we had not been spotted. Krista urged, "Let's go for it," and began swimming faster towards the Trident. I slowed down, attempting to size up the situation and also responding to cramps in my calves. I was shivering intensely by this time, my whole body shaking as I decided to swim wide of the shiplift hoping to stay out of sight range.

The women were 50 yards ahead and nearly touching the pilings of the dock when one of the three smokers yelled in a woman's voice, "HALT!!! HALT !!! I watched her run across the dock to the right side of the building and grab at a box. When she came over to the edge of the dock her silhouette clearly held a machine gun type rifle. She pointed it down at the Katri and Krista and continued screaming conflicting orders. "Stay there! Come here!" At the same time more lights came on and a huge loud speaker system announced in a booming voice, "Bandits on the Base. Bandits on the Base!" It was only a moment more before the female officer spotted me as I tried to swim around the melee. She pointed the rifle my way but with my wet suit hood covering my ears, her voice was muffled and something told me she wouldn't shoot me as I continued swimming to Trident. My partners had a better view of the woman with her rifle and remained floating at the bottom of the dock, their feet dangling in the water perhaps only five meters from the end of our goal.

I continued swimming realizing now that with four or five short underwater bursts, I could slither out onto the back surfaced area, next to the rear fin and wings and perhaps have a chance to take a few delicious whacks at the beast before they whacked me. In what seemed to be three minutes a zodiac came zooming out of the dark from the back of the Trident. They passed me to pick up the women and I made one underwater spurt, feeling my right calf cramping as I did. I surfaced to see the Zodiac coming my way with Krista and Katri on board. I had a dilemma. I could evade the Zodiac and get to the Trident or I could surrender. The nonviolence guidelines are quite clear that once spotted, running is prohibited, but swimming fast has yet to enter the anti-nuclear movement nonviolence bylaws.

There is a fine dance that happens in our effort to convert these missiles to farm tools. It is a dance that happens when one human being makes a stand, looks another human being in the eye, and refuses violence. I climbed into the Zodiac and when I stood up, the Navy seal slapped me on the arm and said, "Well, done man. No one had ever gotten that close to a Trident before." I remembered the old adage that "the best way to destroy your enemy is to make them your friend." One friend by one friend we will disarm that Trident. Keep swimming!

In 1992 anti nuclear activist/author Rick Paul Springer appeared on stage with former President Ronald Reagan at the National Association of Broadcasters convention at the Las Vegas Hilton. His protest was to "announce the fire alarm on the nuclear industry". Rick dashed a crystal eagle on a pedestal, approached the podium and announced "Excuse Me, Mr. President". This is now the title of his new book. Excuse Me, Mr. President, The Message of the Broken Eagle may be viewed at or ordered through Broken Eagle Press POB 402 Arcata, Calif. 95518 USA.

Scottish CND      Magazine